Another good turnout of volunteers appeared at the entrance to Crow Hall Farm on Hartley Lane on a decidedly chilly morning with broken clouds and a gusty wind. Courage was needed as we walked across the field to the Dene, stared at by a lying bull who gave the appearance of having had a busy night! The ladies had deserted him and were at the other end of the field.
In the flat open area on the south side of the river adjacent to the upstream wooden bridge we have planted Service and Oak saplings, as well as 10 Spindleberry shrubs and 400 English daffodil bulbs and it is important in their early years that we keep on top of the rampant vegetation that grows around them. Because bulbs are involved the cut vegetation must be raked and moved to the side of the area and this was done by gathering the vegetation into bales and rolling them to the edge of the woodland. All this activity disturbed a good number of frogs of varying size and some of the volunteers gave them a helping hand to safer areas.
The first photograph shows the volunteers just starting the cutting of this area after the saplings had been found and marked with tall white tipped canes.
Photograph 1 Volunteers starting to cut the vegetation.
Just over an hour later the job was done and we paused for well-earned refreshments.
Photograph 2 The cutting completed.
We then moved downstream to the next planted area where Oak saplings and Dogwood and Guelder Rose shrubs are planted. The same cutting activity was then repeated except that, as bulbs were not involved, the cut vegetation could be left where it fell.
Everyone agreed that this year’s cutting in both areas was easier than in previous years, which is a well-known result of annual cutting reducing the strength of the wild plants.
It also meant the two areas were completed in less time than had been envisaged and so we had a slightly earlier finish than normal.
It was ideal day weather wise, not too hot or cold, patches of sun and no rain and having been dry overnight the vegetation being cut and cleared was dry.
A few days before, a report had been received that a large branch of a tree was down across the Holywell Bridge path, so this was a wonderful opportunity for our recently qualified chainsaw volunteer to go into real action after his course. So the two Holywell volunteers dealt with this situation by cutting up the branch and opening the path before joining the rest of the volunteers.
Photograph. Recently qualified chainsaw volunteer on first task in the Dene.
The other eight volunteers, forming four teams, started on cutting the northern bridleway vegetation with the aim of linking up the east and west sections of the path that had been cut during earlier sessions. That done there was still time for everyone to descend onto the adjacent area where, on various earlier occasions, we had planted an assortment of saplings. Some were now easily seen small trees, still living after severe deer attacks, but others were much smaller and still in their rabbit guards and had to be found and marked by white sticks to avoid being severed along with the other vegetation.
We have cut this area for a number of years now, and this shows as the vegetation growth gets less as the strength of the plants diminishes with each cutting. The soil in this area is particularly good as it was once the cultivated gardens of the houses that were nearby – sadly long since demolished.
The morning was, unfortunately, not without incident, one of the clearing rakes broke and even worse one of the brush cutting machines kept playing up and eventually had to be abandoned. At this time of the year one extra hazard is hitting a wasp’s nest with one of the cutters: this duly happened with the volunteer being stung a few times before getting out of range. Unfortunately, he and we now know that he is severely allergic to wasp’s stings so his morning session resulted in an urgent medical visit. Who would be a volunteer!!
Since the last report published on this website for 7th June there has been two further Tuesday sessions of vegetation cutting along paths in the Dene.
5th July 2016
This was one of those touch and go days as the morning dawned with drizzle in the strong wind, a cool temperature and a poor weather forecast. As it was we completed a good morning’s work but with only 5 volunteers.
Holidays before the schools break up and one volunteer away on a course reduced the numbers attending but with two brush cutters operating we completed cutting the paths on the northern side of the river between the two wooden bridges including the path that goes uphill to the northern bridleway. The morning finished with the cutting of the short length of path going west from the stepping-stones which, for some reason unknown, always needs cutting two or three times in a season.
12th July 2016
Weather wise a better day although still very cool for the time of the year. People were still on holiday and the volunteer attending a course, mentioned last week, was having his new chainsaw expertise examined, with a positive result I am pleased to say. This will be a great asset for the Group in the future when trees or large branches fall across paths.
With just the 4 volunteers we still had two strimmers operating and cut the path starting at the metal gate on the farm road through to the downstream wooden bridge, as well as the whole area around the seat next to the stepping-stones. This means the necessary cutting to the northern side river path has been completed.
19th July 2016
Today was all change! Not only was it the hottest day of the year so far, 24 degrees, but the sun was shining from a clear sky with only a light breeze. Lovely for the beach but not good for cutting vegetation, as the sweat laden returning volunteers found out. Today we had 10 volunteers operating our full complement of 5 strimmers and as the weary bodies dragged themselves back to their transport at the end of the morning, the joys of their holidays became a distant memory.
The FoHD social event on the next Friday, involves a walk around the estuary paths, this meant that some cutting of the western path, where the vegetation had gone berserk, was required and this was carried out by 2 volunteers operating a single strimmer.
The remainder cut the very overgrown northern bridleway starting at the stepping-stones and going uphill past Hartley West Farm and then in a westerly direction reaching the path junction at the seat and first gate. The path from the gate downhill to the downstream wooden bridge was also cut. To complete all that on a very hot and humid day is a great achievement and congratulations are in order.
Weather wise, today was a great improvement on last week with the temperature and more especially the humidity lower and with occasional glimpses of sun and a light wind conditions could not have been better. Last week we were cutting the vegetation at the east end of the northern bridleway while this week we were at the west end, commencing at the Holywell pumping station. The first photograph shows the path as work commenced.
Photograph 1 The bridleway next to the pumping station, as cutting started.
This relatively short stretch of path is always a problem to cut due to the number of people using it, walkers, runners, cyclists and horse-riders. So we decided to put almost all our resources on it first thing when there were less people to disturb us. It worked well and soon the 4 strimming teams had cut the path edges and moved further along the path were it is less overgrown. This left just 2 people to carry out the necessary hedge cutting and clearance. Photograph 2 shows the same section of path when all our work on it had been finished.
Photograph 2 Work completed on the same section of path shown in photograph 1
Meanwhile the fifth strimming team were cutting the short peripheral connecting paths in the area.
Then everyone moved east over the bridge above the old railway line and onto the long straight stretch of the bridleway. The third photograph shows the view that greeted us.
Photograph 3 The bridleway east of the old railway bridge before cutting started.
We managed to complete the cutting up to a point just to the east of the stile before time caught up and we started our long weary way walk back to the cars. The finishing point was far enough east for us to see the first of the oak saplings we planted along the northern bank edge. They were still alive, had put on some growth and were still safe and sound in their staked guards; a good end to the morning.
As we reached the railway bridge on our way home there was time for a fourth photograph showing the same stretch of path as shown in photograph 3. Surely there can be no further complaints now?
Photograph 4 Work completed on the same section of path shown in photograph 3
Another fine day, if anything a little too hot, greeted the nine volunteers who assembled at the stone bridge to carry out a task the Working Party had never attempted before.
For around 13 years, since the oak saplings and wild daffodils were planted, the open part of the meadow has been cut annually by a local farmer who baled the cuttings and removed them to use as hay. Then in 2015 he informed us that he had sold the machines he used and the replacements were too big to get through the gate into the meadow.
After lengthy discussion it was decided that a section in NCC would cut and remove the hay but at a considerable cost to the NCC section administering Holywell Dene. This work commenced well into the autumn, too late to be ideal, but was never finished as the machine became faulty.
To save the meadow reverting to wild land, thus losing the daffodils, the volunteers decided to have a try at cutting the area with their brush cutters. Obviously they were unable to remove the hay, so the plan was to rake it into bales and put them along the line of the river.
The first photograph shows the start of the operation with four volunteers in red helmets doing the cutting using a straight line cutting system from right to left, with the other four volunteer’s baling and stacking the hay.
Photograph 1 the start of cutting and raking the meadow
After four hours of almost non-stop cutting and clearing, the far end of the open meadow was reached and the time came for calling it a day. The second photograph can only be headed ‘a job well done’
Photograph 2 ‘a job well done’
It is rare for a report to start by saying how pleased we all were that the sun didn’t appear until the last hour or so of the morning. At the rendezvous there was drizzle in the air but this soon stopped and we were left with cloud but very high humidity without any wind: a recipe for a great deal of sweating. The sun when it appeared was the last straw with sweating turning into running sweat.
We were, as last week, in the meadow but this time cutting the vegetation at the west end and on the north side of the path where planted trees and shrubs have been growing for some 15 years. Under the trees and shrubs are the wild daffodils that create a splendid display in the spring, so loved by visitors.
In places where the tree cover was sparse we planted a few extra oak saplings two winters ago and I am pleased to report that all are doing well even under thick covering vegetation and that all were located in their rabbit guards and marked with a white tipped cane so that none was accidently strimmed. Some of the older planted oak trees are now a considerable size and creating their own large shadow area beneath, which in turn keeps the rampant vegetation under control.
The only other problem today was the number of frogs found in the vegetation when cutting. Great care was taken to rescue and move them to a place out of harm’s way.
After a long hard session the task was completed and we can now leave the meadow to ready itself for the winter slumber and the awakening spring.
After a bank holiday Monday and the local Tall Ship festivities, for which FoHD had a stall, it was not surprising that this week’s parade consisted of just five volunteers, three of whom were weary from the previous day before they even started. With this number it was only possible to parade two strimmers and a hedge cutter, as the group assembled at the Dale Top path in Holywell in quite beautiful weather.
Initially, work was concentrated at the east end on clearing the entrance to the path from Dale Top itself, before the steps leads one down to the riverside path, with the other team starting to cut this path coming from the opposite direction.
We all met up at our infamous pond we dug in an effort to stop the path flooding in winter, which has worked better than we ever expected. A small fallen tree was across the empty pond so we cut this up using a bow saw and removed it together with part of a fallen tree trunk that was across the path, this was dragged clear. Other small low branches throughout the path were removed with loppers working to their maximum height as we came across them.
Then we turned our attention to the west end where two paths rise from the footbridge over the river and join the main tarmac east/west path. These were cut and litter collected and it must be said that the amount collected was dramatically down on what we have collected in previous years.
Then back to the centre of the riverside path at its junction with the unofficial path that comes down from the west end of Wallridge Drive. This was created by FoHD a good few years ago to get heavy cutting and winching equipment down to the river to remove fallen trees from the river and off the path, at the time when the whole path was being restored after years of neglect
This well used unofficial footpath was cut while on the bank of the river Himalayan Balsam plants in flower were removed and bagged in an effort to stop their widespread expansion, which is a characteristic of their growth. More work still needs to be done in this respect.
The weather was overcast, rain-free and warm for the time of year - my car reported 25 degrees Celsius on the way home. Eight of us, including a tall stranger newly returned from vacation in Canada, gathered at the metal gate on the Hartley West Farm road for another strimming session.
The main task was to tidy up the old garden by the river bank below Hartley West Farm, which was four feet high with hogweed and other rank vegetation. If you are unfamiliar with this area, it is the place where the north-bank path veers away from the burn for a while, downstream of the old mill and the stepping stones. This was completed without getting stung by wasps from the nest that we uncovered in one of the sumps by the path!
Next the dene-side edges of the path in that area were strimmed, and both sides of the path to where the river bank was reinforced earlier this year with willow weaving and gabions. Job done, so we strolled off for lunch all sweaty, tired and (in my case) hungry.
By the way, we spotted three Himalayan balsam plants – only a small ones – by the river. They were pulled out and bagged up for disposal. They have a beautiful snapdragon-like flowers, but if you look up /Impatiens glandulifera/ on Wikipedia (or wherever), you will see that it grows to a height of three metres, crowds out other riverside plants, spreads like crazy, over-attracts pollinators (bees etc) – and is rated worse than an infestation of triffids. So, if you see some, report it via the FoHD website Contact page.
Forecast to be the warmest September day in 40 years, by mid-morning the volunteers would certainly have agreed it was, as they toiled under clear blue skies and hardly a breath of wind.
A group of nine assembled at the stone bridge on the farm road, including one volunteer who was attending his first session. Initially, three groups were set up, the first working a little upstream of the stepping stones had the unenviable task of finding and clearing, beneath the head high bracken, nettles and brambles, the Oak Trees, and Wayfaring and Guelder Rose Shrubs, planted in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
It is thought all the oaks were found but only eight of the ten shrubs, but those that were found were all alive and doing well.
A second party of two strimming pairs concentrated on path vegetation cutting to the east of the stone bridge while the final two volunteers, using the heavier strimmers, cut the areas around the pond in our ongoing endeavours to keep the bracken under control, as shown in the first photograph.
Photograph 1 Area cutting to keep bracken under control.
The first group, having completed their initial hunt, then turned their attention to the area immediately to the east of the stone bridge. This was somewhat easier as they were not fighting bracken and nettles and these Oak Trees, planted in 2013 and Goat Willow Shrubs planted in 2015 were all alive and, as can be seen from the second photograph, the Oaks in particular are doing well and now have grown above their rabbit guards.
Photograph 2 Planted oak saplings doing well
In the last part of the morning there was another ‘plantings’ hunt in the area immediately to the NE of Hartley Lane Car Park, while at the same time the first part of the path vegetation going from the car park towards Seaton Sluice was cut. This time the hunt was looking for the usual Oaks and the other five Goat Willow Shrubs planted in 2015. The soil here is greatly inferior to the other areas and has numerous hidden rabbit burrows just waiting to upend the volunteer. Most, but not all the Oaks are still alive and some are doing well, but it appears the goat willows in this area are struggling.
So were some of the volunteers after a very heavy morning’s work in trying conditions!!
Another great day for working outside, with the day starting cool but quickly warming up as the sun got to work and there was hardly a breath of wind to cool things down. Within an hour of starting there was sweat on the brows of the eight volunteers who had met at the high east end of the Millfield path.
The group were split into four teams, three strimming and one hedge and tree branch cutting. Two strimming teams started at the harbour end of the path working south, while the third team started on the Millfield path, cutting it where necessary until they reached the estuary path at which point they carried on working towards the harbour and the other two teams.
The hedging team cut back encroaching shrubs, small trees and brambles as necessary and, in places, used a bowsaw to cut tree branches that were too low over the path to allow free access for horse and rider.
This pattern, with a changeover of personnel carrying out the arm tiring hedge cutting, continued to the south getting to a point just past the still broken metal bridge with one strimming team moving across the bridge to the west side estuary path and cutting around the seat next to the bridge and the first hundred metres or so of the path edges.
It should be appreciated that today’s extensive hedge cutting activities, prior to this year, were carried out by Michael our NCC contact before he was moved to another post earlier this year.
The fine weather suited the volunteers but it also attracted many walkers, with and without dogs, who, while saying they appreciated what we were doing, also caused a stop start method of working for us.
Another good working day weather wise; being dry, not too cold or hot and with the sun putting in an appearance late morning. Seven volunteers assembled at Dene Cottage for a mixed morning of strimming, hedge trimming and gully clearance.
While the normal kit was brought to the rendezvous in the group’s car, one volunteer kindly agreed to walk two wheelbarrows from the store to site, which considerably helped in kit and personal bags being kept out of the wet and mud, an apt description for the estuary west path.
Work started with the path vegetation being cut and overhanging nettles, bushes and small branches of trees removed with the hedge cutter, loppers or bowsaw, while off path water soakaways were cleaned out, as illustrated by the first photograph.
Photograph 1 Strimming and soakaways being cleaned.
This method of working carried on along the path, to be joined by the clearance of the gullies adjacent to the path, aimed at catching the seeping water from the hillside and channelling it across the path and so into the river, as illustrated in the second photograph.
Photograph 2 Cleaning the gullies.
The aim of the morning was completed at just gone noon when we reached the seat beneath Starlight Castle, as the path from there to the metal bridge didn’t need the same attention. Then came the trudge back with all the kit to the starting point – getting a wheelbarrow heavy with tools over a stile is no easy task, especially when people are tired after a heavy morning’s work.